Relationship loss is an inevitable aspect of life. We lose relationships all the time due to circumstances beyond the control of ourselves and those with whom we have relationships. There is also a type of relationship loss that is deliberately initiated: the termination or break-up. This occurs when one or more participants in a relationship decide that the relationship is over and should be discarded. The discarded relationship may or may not be replaced by a new relationship. For example the board members of an organization may decide to terminate their relationship with a badly behaving high profile sports person or celebrity, but may rectify a personal relationship with this person in the future upon improving their behavior.
It is never pleasant to be on the giving or receiving end of relationship termination, but nonetheless, we need to learn how to deal with it properly. If a relationship conclusion is not dealt with properly then lingering resentment and bitterness become a very real possibility. This precludes a chance of initiating a new relationship or future reconciliation with the other party.
Decisions to terminate relationships are based on evaluations that are driven by emotion (the way we feel), logic (our thought process) or both. For example: when a child has been abused by their parents and no acknowledgement nor remorse of those actions are given, then once the child becomes independent, the logic dictates they terminate the relationship with their parents. However, biological and acquired bonds may mean that they feel they cannot. Another example is when someone is with a partner who is treating them very well but with whom they are not in love. In this case logic dictates that they should retain the relationship whereas their feelings are urging them to terminate the relationship and start a new one with someone with whom they are in love. This sort of conflict is known as cognitive dissonance (read more about cognitive dissonance at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance). In business the decision to terminate an employee should be driven by logic, but unfortunately, is sometimes driven by emotion (e.g. prejudice, professional jealousy, dislike etc.).
Once the evaluation is complete and the decision to terminate taken, the prospective terminator then turns their attention to how the termination should happen. Most of us are intellectual, emotional and physical cowards when it comes to dealing with potentially emotionally charged situations. Consequently we avoid the difficult task of terminating properly (more about that in a moment) and instead fabricate what we think is letting the other party or parties down gently. This results in the other party being given stock reasons such as:
“You’re performance is unsatisfactory.”
“I don’t feel the same way about you any more.”
“The standard of your work has deteriorated.”
“It’s not you it’s me.”
“We’ve drifted apart and are living separate lives.”
The commonality running through all these phrases is that the terminator does not have to provide any detailed explanation and thus reduces the risk of an emotionally charged exchange. The problem with this is that it leaves the other party feeling rejected, confused and possibly with low self esteem as they struggle to understand why.
In the case of the employee being terminated they may ask for the metrics on which their “unsatisfactory performance” is being measured. It’s important to remember that a terminated employee does have the right to understand why the termination took place (in Australia at least). According to Australia regulations, if a reasonable explanation is not given in termination or if a person feels they were terminated unjustly they can go to fairwork.gov.au for help. A search under “fair termination” or “worker’s rights” in your specific country may yield similar government sites designated to this specific issue.
In the case of a marriage ending the terminator has no obligation other than a moral one to explain their reasons. In these cases if the terminator chooses not to explain, it may result in the terminator being persistently interrogated by the other party – sometimes to an extent of discomfort that could be defined as stalking.
Proper termination requires a great deal of intellectual, emotional and physical courage because of the potential for the termination exchanges to become emotionally charged. A proper termination will achieve the following:
- Appropriate closure for the other party. (the terminator has already got their closure in making then decision to terminate)
- Peace of mind for the terminator in having done the right thing.
- Full understanding by all parties of the reasons for the termination (if the terminator cannot give reasons they are either uncertain whether the termination is in fact the right decision or perhaps lying in attempt to cover-up.)
In order to successfully deliver a proper termination the terminator will broadly follow these steps:
- Arrange a series of termination meetings at neutral, comfortable venues (parks are particularly good venues for romantic terminations)
- Bring notepads and pens to the meetings in case anybody should want to write things down.
- Clearly explain the reasons for the termination of the relationship.
- Listen carefully to feedback from the other party and respond if possible; if not make a note to respond at the next meeting.
- Conduct the meetings so as to keep the other party focused on the termination decision and the reasons why
- Have as many meetings as it takes for the other party to accept that the relationship is terminated.
It leaves each party with a better understanding of where they are, and help better their route for the future. This may sound like a lot of work but it is better than many of the alternatives.
It’s common to think that as a terminator one should cut off all contact and make the other party go cold turkey. One of the worst things we do to each other is cut each off and ignore each other. Actually, this is a particularly insidious form of bullying both in schools and workplaces. By totally cutting off the other party we are effectively saying “I don’t recognize your basic humanity and need for understanding WHICH I am able to help you with.” We rationalize it in all sorts of ways:
“I don’t want to lead you on.”
“It makes me uncomfortable.”
“You should be able to get over it.”
Even though we can “get over it” on our own, we would “get over it” a great deal quicker if the terminator terminated properly…maybe a little warmer then Arnold.
Stay strong and serene.
I am a virtual author, the creation of Farai. Farai was born in Zimbabwe and migrated to England at an early age in the early 70s. Shortly after starting school he demonstrated a voracious appetite for reading and some talent in writing. In 2005 he migrated to Australia where he worked as a business analyst, but found his life as a writer and adviser more interesting and engaging.